Swissman from the sidelines
I can't say I entirely understand triathlon. I like finding my groove and going for it, and it seems rather anticlimactic to all of a sudden have to change sports, fiddle around with new equipment and start all over again. Plus, I've never enjoyed swimming laps.
I do understand the appeal of Swissman. Because Swissman is a (dare I say) epic triathlon. And I am a proponent of doing difficult, beautiful things, just to see if you can.
What follows is the story of Swissman. For once, I was not racing, but crewing an ironman with no aid stations other than those provided by the crew is almost as deep an involvement as actually racing.
|Looking down on Gletsch from Furka pass, on the drive through of the bike course.|
At 3 am on Saturday morning, Vibeke's alarm went off. I woke with a start, even though I didn't have to get up until 5:30 am. It was Swissman day. This was it.
"I figured out what I'll do!" Vibeke exclaimed manically as she pulled on her warm ups. "If I can just keep my knee in check up San Gottardo pass, I'll walk up Furka! I can do this!"
At this point a little backstory is required. Vibeke was have difficulties with her iliotibial band - common know as 'runner's knee' - which presented whenever she biked for many hours at a time. The Swissman bike course is 180 km long, with lots of hard climbs, and we were all anticipating knee troubles. The runner's knee seemed to be the bottleneck in completing the race. Vibeke had planned to get off the bike and stretch every so often to keep it in check, but we had no idea if this would help.
After she and David (her boyfriend and my co-supporter) left to go to the start of the swim course, I slept fitfully for another few hours. By 6 am, I was watching the end of the 4 km swim.
A double line of supporters showed the way from the edge of the water to the transition area. Swimmers emerged glistening from the water, and they seemed almost superhuman to me, like the seals-turned-women selkies of Irish myths. They gasped for air, struggled to find stable footing and charged towards the transition zone as they ripped off their swimming caps and goggles.
Vibeke appeared from the water around 6:20 am, and I ran with her up the now-dwindling aisle of people. I felt genuinely excited. In some ways, it seems like the swim in a triathlon is something that you just need to get over with. The real competition starts on the bike.
|Vibeke in T1|
Vibeke left on her bike, and it all felt rather anticlimactic. David, Vibeke's boyfriend and my co-supporter, and I had over an hour before we were suppose to meet her in the first checkpoint in Bodio. We went back to the hotel and had a feverish breakfast, refreshing the tracking page every couple of minutes. She was cooking along, and by the time we zoom down the highway we were starting to fear that we might miss the first rendezvous.
Forty hectic minutes later, we arrived in Bodio less than 2 minutes before Vibeke. She tossed a bottle and we gave her a new one.
We headed up the road, passing again Vibeke quickly. All was rolling smoothly, and I felt immensely well-prepared. Our final chaotic pack-and-prep session the day before had resulted in a carefully packed car prepared to service our athlete's every needs. We had spreadsheets. We had thousands of calories of food. We were ready, to use the immortal words of Dickens, for anything from a baby to a rhinoceros.
|The day-before-race-chaos. Note the waffle iron in the lower right.|
Feeling so ready, and Vibeke not needing much help, left me feeling rather deflated. Luckily, we quickly spotted a target for our helpfulness. Another female racer, 'Kirsty' according to her bib, was standing by the road, talking on her cellphone.
We pulled over. "Everything allright?" David asked.
"Well, my supporter is lost," said Kirsty. Rather matter-of-factly, I might add, for something still in the first 100 km of an 180 km bike ride, currently with no support. We offered her water and some snacks, and resolved to help her until her supporter came.
The course began to snake upward. We were still in the foothills, but now truly headed for the high passes of the Alpes. Other supporters lounged at every stopping point, and we chatted with them. There was the South Africans, who seem to have brought there entire family to support one athlete. There was a Norwegian man who was supporting his twin brother, Roar. Roar wasn't far behind Vibeke but seemed to be struggling more on the initial climbs.
|Vibeke below Ambri|
I consulted my spreadsheet. Vibeke was making good time, and was almost precisely hitting her expected splits. Hopefully this would last.
|Is this your idea of fun?|
|David, who is Swedish, in his Sweden shirt with a Norwegian flag, waiting near Tremola.|
|Vibeke near Tremola|
|Vibeke arrives on top of San Gottardo|
|Only at Swissman. David massages Vibeke in the middle of the road on top of San Gottardo pass.|
|The support team is ready...|
|...and the happy athlete arrives.|
|Vibeke on the way up Furka pass|
|The top of Furka is a little less touristy than San Gottardo|
|Vibeke gets massaged on Furka|
|The descent from Furka and the climb up Grimsel.|
|Vibeke in T2|
David packed some snacks and a water bottle in his cycling jersey, and they were off. With, alas, no cell phone between the pair of them. I'm going to foreshadow a little here: no cell phone = big mistake.
|Out of T2|
|Vibeke taking a break at km 8.5 on the run|
|Almost at 22 km|
|At least she had a good nap in the hospital! That's more than we can say|
|Kleine Scheidegg and its dramatic surroundings|
|Vibeke, Kirsty, me and David at Kleine Scheidegg|
Even the Vegan Runners finished! But they have Vegan Powers (reference: Scott Pilgrim vs World. Great movie.)